June 22, 2022

The Founder-Angel Investor Connection with Sameer Sait & John Stewart

by Cyber Ranch

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Show Notes

Allan invites a founder and an angel investor to the ranch this week to talk about how founders and angel investors really connect. Meet Sameer Sait, former CISO at Amazon Whole Foods and now founder of BalkanID, and John Stewart, former CISO at Cisco and investor at Talons Ventures. Together, these gentlemen offer a lot about both sides of the investment story, from evaluation to the decision to work together, and what a mutually beneficial founder and angel investor relationship looks like.


Timecoded Guide:

[01:23] Exploring John and Sameer’s backgrounds in cyber and how they developed their own unique founder-angel investor connection

[04:53] Understanding the triggering aspects that caused someone like John to become an angel investor in BalkanID and how BalkanID selected their investors

[08:20] Delving into the uniqueness of different founder-investor relationships and how John (vs other BalkanID investors) makes his impact on Sameer’s work as a founder

[13:30] Giving expert advice and explaining lessons learned in founding your first company and in investing in startups 

[22:12] Exploring how other experiences in life, outside of cybersecurity and investing, has informed John and Sameer’s work with BalkanID and with solving cyber issues


Sponsor Links:

Thank you to our sponsor Axonius for bringing this episode to life!

Life is complex. But it’s not about avoiding challenges or fearing failure. Just ask Simone Biles — the greatest gymnast of all time. Want to learn more about how Simone controls complexity? Watch her video at axonius.com/simone.


What inspired you to become a founder of BalkanID, Sameer?

As the former CISO of Amazon Whole Foods and an investor at numerous cybersecurity companies, Sameer has a great resume to show off. However, his work with BalkanID offered him the opportunity to be a founder, something that Sameer had never done before. When asked what inspired him to be a first-time founder, he tells us that he continuously encountered the same problems over and over again, and wasn’t seeing anyone coming up with the right solution. Continuing to move forward with so much at stake with this issue of entitlements felt like a missed opportunity, and with the right investors and co-founders on his side, BalkanID was born.

“I knew that we could do better, right? And I knew the existing solutions were not scaling. And I think the last inspiration was really finding the right co-founders to go at this with. That was the biggest inspiration of all.” - Sameer Sait


John, what were the triggering factors that made you decide to invest in BalkanID? 

Just like Sameer, John has some incredible experience to show off in the tech world and in the investment world. But why BalkanID? A simple answer would be the connection between these two men, having met numerous times throughout their careers, developing a strong working relationship. However, John sees so much potential in BalkanID and in Sameer beyond just their work friendship. John believes that you don’t invest in tech, you invest in people, and the qualities he sees in Sameer as a founder and a leader in the tech world excites him and he felt he could lend his expertise to BalkanID in a beneficial way.

“Sameer is very self-aware. These things matter. He knows what he knows, he knows what he doesn't know, he's comfortable bringing in people that complement his skills and make a stronger team around him. In the end, that's why I say you bet on people, not on tech.” - John Stewart


What advice do you have for potential investors looking to get involved in startups, John?

Being an investor isn’t always easy, and John has made some mistakes that taught him the hard way about how to be a good investor. With a hands-on approach and now tons of projects under his belt, John is asked to give some advice to future investors. A hugely important piece of advice from John is to know your founder, know their wants and needs, and to see ahead of what their future holds. You’re an investor, but it is their company, and you have to be aligned in order to produce a mutually beneficial relationship. 

“As an investor, I follow out and look for all of those things. I look at how optionality is, how CEOs think, how many chances they have, what directions could they go. Are they strategically capable of looking beyond today's decision and thinking about what might happen in the future?” - John Stewart


Sameer, what advice would you give fellow founders?

Despite his experiences at other companies, BalkanID is Sameer’s first founding experience so far. His biggest lesson to date? Not getting caught up in the buzz and the hype. BalkanID’s approach to their audience and their product has been to focus on their customer and work backwards to find their problem and their ideal solution. This takes time, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing your revenue, launches, products, and marketing tactics of other companies. This only hurts your brand in the long-run because you’ll no longer be focused on your customer’s problem. 

“As an early stage, first-time entrepreneur, a part of me would get nervous. ‘Oh, my God, look what's happening out there. Oh, we're so slow.’ I think of taking a step back and saying, ‘Well, we are on our journey,’ right? We have supporters, we have backers, we have a real problem we're solving. The fact that other people want to solve the same problem is validation that it's a real problem.” - Sameer Sait



Stay in touch with Sameer Sait on LinkedIn and the BalkanID website.

Stay in touch with John Stewart on LinkedIn.

Follow Allan Alford on LinkedIn and Twitter

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